Bienvenue au Canada. One of the first indications newcomers have that they’re in a strange, new land is the mishmash of vehicles that greets them when they walk out of the airport terminal. There’s a dizzying array of cars and trucks in Canada, many of which are unfamiliar to people emigrating from countries such as Poland, Brazil and Iran.
The drivers among them often ask: Where are the Renaults, Opels, Dacias and Marutis of their homelands? What’s a Pontiac? Why are so many cars automatics? And why do so few fill up at the diesel pump?
For new arrivals, buying a car is an exciting and vital step towards integrating in Canada. They may be living in a suburban apartment that isn’t close to their first place of work, so a car represents the key to gainful employment. Many immigrants come with cash in pocket and ready to purchase their first car here. But what to buy?
Navigating an unfamiliar automotive market can be daunting for new arrivals, especially if they have a modest budget and are limited to a used vehicle. Like all Canadians, new residents want value for their money and a reliable vehicle that can get them to work in the coldest weather. With that in mind, here are nine recommended used models anyone can find for around $8,000.
2008-2010 Kia Magentis
The little-known Kia Magentis sedan is an uncommon used-car bargain that rides on the same refined platform as the vastly more popular Hyundai Sonata, but cloaked in its own anonymous styling that largely goes unnoticed. On the plus side the cabin offers enough interior volume to classify it as a large car, making it ideal for families. The seats are mounted well off the floor and shaped to accommodate people of all sizes.
Kia offered a choice between a 161-hp 2.4-L four-cylinder engine and a 2.7-L V6, good for just 185 hp. A five-speed manual transmission came with the four-cylinder; a five-speed automatic was optional and came standard with the V6. The 2009 models got slightly stronger engines: a 175-hp 2.4-L four and a 194-hp V6. There are reports of transmission failure and some four-cylinder engines have self-destructed in 2007 models, so it’s best to avoid that model year.
2009-2011 Honda Fit
Newcomers will recognize the Honda Fit as the Jazz, as it is marketed in many parts of the world. The redesigned 2009 Fit five-door hatchback is an unusually spacious subcompact and an unexpectedly good driver’s car. By locating the fuel tank under the front seats, engineers allocated generous cabin space for five in what is a tiny auto on the outside. The clever 60/40-split rear bench could fold down to the floor, or the seat bottoms could fold up to reveal a floor-to-ceiling cargo hold.
Small doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. The U.S. government gave the Fit mostly five stars in crash testing, while the insurance industry awarded it an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The Fit’s 117-hp 1.5-L four-cylinder engine provides enough spunk to move this flyweight with some authority. A few noteworthy quality lapses in the Japanese-made Fit include faulty air conditioners and blower fans, intermittent electric steering problems and water leaks infiltrating the cabin.
2008-2010 Mitsubishi Outlander
Mitsubishi is a relative newcomer to Canada itself, but it’s regarded throughout the rest of the world as a maker of durable cars and trucks. For people looking for an all-wheel-drive SUV, the Outlander is a stylish sport utility that’s well put-together and pleasant to drive. It’s powered by a 168-hp 2.4-L four cylinder working through a CVT transmission, or a 220-hp 3.0-L V6 tied to a six-speed autobox. Base models came with front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive.
The cabin offers plenty of room with second-row seatbacks that recline, and the split bench can slide fore and aft to maximize either passenger or cargo space. The XLS model can fit up to seven occupants thanks to third-row jump seats (a kids-only zone) that can fold down into the cargo floor. The interior lost marks from owners who found the trim and plastics dull and cheap-looking. Watch for front-end clunks and a CVT transmission that can reportedly overheat.
2009-2011 Suzuki SX4
After years of disappointing sales, Suzuki Automobiles exited Canada five years ago, leaving us with a supply of orphaned SX4 sedans and five-door hatchbacks that have held up well. Most are front-drive models, although there are some all-wheel-drive SX4s with an electric solenoid-operated clutch that activates the rear wheels when required. The uniquely styled SX4 offers a generous greenhouse and tall seating, giving occupants the illusion of riding in a tiny minivan.
The SX4 is motivated by a 2.0-L four cylinder making 143 hp, tied to a five-speed manual gearbox or four-speed automatic transmission, the latter replaced by a CVT in 2010. The made-in-Japan SX4 has drawn little criticism in terms of its dependability. The air conditioner may stop working because the electromagnet compressor clutch failed. Faulty airbag warning lamps and seat sensors have been the subject of a recall. Suzuki reportedly still supports authorized service centres and aftermarket parts are readily available.
2009-2011 Toyota Corolla
From the dusty streets of Kandahar to the bright lights of Tokyo, the world’s bestselling automobile is a familiar one to citizens of most any country, the result of the Toyota Corolla’s legendary durability. Engineers have been reluctant to replace the automaker’s battle-hardened technology, such as the 1.8-L four-cylinder engine that’s been powering Corollas for eons along with the aging four-speed automatic transmission. In this generation, the engine churns out 132 hp and comes with a five-speed stick or the trusty autobox.
The XRS model uses the Camry’s larger 158-hp four-cylinder, along with a five-speed automatic tranny or manual gearbox. Look past the sedan’s dull styling and the Canadian-made Corolla rewards with a roomy interior and good fit and finish. Durability issues include some oil burning (monitor the dipstick) and lane wandering by the electrically assisted steering system. The water pump, a Toyota weakness, may fail earlier than what might be expected.
2008-2010 Mazda 5
Drivers outside of North America generally don’t suffer from minivan-phobia, so the nimble-handling Mazda5 has some appeal among families. The 5 is internationally sized, making it smaller than a regular minivan – and hundreds of kilos lighter – while offering seating in three rows of two. However, that third row is reserved for munchkins and with all six seats occupied there’s little cargo room left, making a rooftop carrier highly desirable.
The first-generation Mazda5 uses a 153-hp 2.3-L four-cylinder engine which is not particularly thrifty with gas, but at least Mazda offered a manual gearbox to wring out the best mileage and acceleration, in addition to the popular five-speed automatic transmission. Owners of early models have complained of frequently blown and leaking shocks, worn sway-bar bushings and rust. If you prefer a stick, watch out for clutches that wear down too quickly – a common complaint involving Mazdas.
2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe
General Motors retired its Pontiac brand several years ago, but its little Vibe soldiers on as an appealing used-car buy, thanks in part to the same fuel-efficient, 132-hp 1.8-L four cylinder that makes the Toyota Corolla and Matrix such dependable buys. It comes with an outdated, but durable, four-speed automatic transmission or five-speed stick with this engine. Some Vibes use Toyota’s smoother 2.4-L four, which comes with a five-speed automatic or manual transmission.
The Vibe is a mini wagon with good room inside for five, thanks to the flat floor and upright seating. The smallish space behind the folding rear bench is finished in hard plastic to accommodate wet and messy cargo. Stick with the 1.8-L engine and pass on the larger 2.4-L four; it has a reputation for burning oil. There’s an all-wheel-drive model, but you’re better off with a set of four snow tires. GM dealers still service the Vibe, and Toyota dealers are equipped to do the work as well.
2007-2009 Honda CR-V
For newcomers settling in Canada’s snowbelt (which is most of the country), a used crossover with all-wheel-drive becomes an attractive option. Honda’s CR-V sport utility has become a local hero by offering a near-perfect combination of practicality, spaciousness and low ownership costs. Its popularity and high resale value require looking at an older model when you’re on a limited budget, but even a high-mileage example will have lots of life left to reward its new owner.
Redesigned for 2007 – which saw the spare tire move from the tailgate to under the vehicle – the CR-V utilized Honda’s highly regarded K-series 2.4-L four-cylinder engine, good for 166 hp, and tied to a five-speed automatic transmission. The cabin is almost minivan-big so there’s lots of space for five and their luggage. While the engine is almost indestructible, watch out for malfunctioning door-lock actuators, failed air conditioning compressors and short-lived batteries.
2007-2009 Toyota Sienna
For families with more than four or five people, a minivan becomes an invaluable household addition with seating for up to eight and good cargo room to carry their stuff. Toyota got its second-generation Sienna right by making it big enough by North American standards and filling it with the content families crave, such as rear windows that roll down. It’s earned a reputation as the Lexus of minivans due to its refined ride and quiet demeanor.
A 266-hp 3.5-L V6 is the lone engine choice – which coincidentally powers many Lexus models – mated to a smooth five-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is optional in the Sienna (a class exclusive), but it comes with mandatory run-flat tires, which wear quickly and are expensive to replace. Reliability is above reproach, which is why the Sienna serves in many taxi fleets. Just the same, look for broken power sliding doors, leaky radiators and water pumps, faulty air conditioners and weak tailgate struts.